Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Game Yet

I hate losing, but I think the most fun I've had so far this year in rugby was our loss against our crosstown rival, the Velox Valhallians.

No one in town likes to lose; but in particular, no one likes to lose to Velox. They don't have the glorious, century-old tradition of winning which James Bay has, nor the tidy, almost professional air which the University of Victoria Vikes have, nor the big membership and rollicking, city-wide, let-the-good-times-roll vibe of my own club, the Castaway Wanderers. Losing to Velox is thus something of a bitter pill for teams. It just always seem to everyone else (no doubt unfairly) that they should be able to beat Velox.

But the truth is, I've played against them several times now (Third Division), and their teams have always been very good. Todd, their fly-half, runs a very tight, effective ship, and once they get on a roll, they are very hard to stop.

I experienced this again last time we played them (maybe two months ago?). They got on a roll, Todd and the inside-centre kept putting guys away on the wing, and they started racking up points. As a result, we began to panic, and began taking stupid chances in order to try to catch up. More often than not, we would turn the ball over, and then the Velox backline would begin to pound us again. If we were lucky enough to get it back, we could barely get anything going because of their ferocious counter-rucking.

I experienced that ferocity personally. My buddy and teammate John Graf had the ball and ran into contact. Tackle made. The tackler jumped up, and in that split-second, I ran in over Graf and crouched to secure the ruck (to prevent the tackler and other defenders from pushing over Graf and stealing the ball). I had it covered - both hands and feet on the ground, over Graf, crouched low. Graf put the ball backwards and I heard our scrum-half run up to snatch it away; when out of nowhere, a semi-trailer smashed into me. I'm 200 pounds, but I was smashed up and backwards like I was an 8 ounce inflatable dummy. I never saw the Velox guy coming. All I knew is that even though I had been low in a four point stance, a split second later, I'd been flipped and was hitting the ground hard on my side six feet behind where I'd been crouching. The Velox forward who'd hit me landed right next to me almost simultaneously, both of us facing each other; and in that moment, I looked at him, and he looked at me, and then...we both started laughing. I had been completely owned. I knew it, he knew it. I just blurted, "that was textbook!", and still laughing, we gave each other a tap as we got up and resumed play.

The onslaught continued without ceasing for the next hour, the Velox guys scoring try after try. With a few minutes left in the game, our coach subbed me off. I thought I was done for the day, and stood watching the game from the sidelines. Suddenly, someone got hurt, and our coach started saying, "We need a flanker. Who's available? We need a flanker!". Then, noticing me standing next to him, he said, "go in at flanker!".

"'Flanker'?". I was a back. I'd never played flanker. I wasn't even sure where I was supposed to be.

"Go!", he said. "They're about to set the scrum".

"I'm in the scrum?!", I said.


I went running out on the wet, muddy field toward the scrum, only a minute or two to go, us getting our butts totally kicked, completely clueless about what I was supposed to do.

"Troy wants me to play flanker", I said to Alex, another forward. "What do I do?!"

"Just play", Alex said.

As it happened, I didn't have time to get near the scrum. I quickly assumed a place in the diagonal backwards-stretching line, and almost before I knew what was happening, Kevin, the scrum-half, had snatched up the ball and was firing a pass at me.

By this time, after nearly 80 minutes of drizzle and muck, the ball looked like it had been dipped in one of those Dairy Queen vats of liquid chocolate; but sprinting forward, I managed to catch it. In that split-second, I could tell I had no gaps in the line in front of me, and so I flicked the ball to my right, to Trent, an awesome young kid who plays every game not just like it's his last, but like he's living his last minute on earth.

Just as I flicked it over, I was hammered by one of their big goons back down into the mud. But as I went down, I managed to see Trent catch it, and then - just as he was in turn being hammered by one of their goons - flick the ball back toward me, to one of our backs who had cut a line right through the middle of us. In a flash, he was through....

And there, lying in the mud next to Trent, both of us covered in grass and muck and sweat and blood, in the last minute of an eighty minute torturous ordeal in which our team hadn't been able to score one single try, getting our faces kicked in (metaphorically and literally), we watched our teammate run right through the gap created by their defenders tackling Trent and me, run another twenty metres to put a move on their fullback, and then run the remaining fifty metres all the way to the try zone to dive in for the score...and no lie, I think it might have been the most exhilarating moment of my rugby career so far (barring the try I scored last year).

We did it!, I thought. I started laughing.

"WE DID IT!", Trent shouted, in almost the same instant.

"Yeah! We did it!!!", I shouted back. "WE DID IT!", we both shouted together. And both of us started laughing uncontrollably, still lying there, covered in muck, exhausted. "We did it, man! We friggin' did it!!! Ha ha ha!". After nearly an hour and a half of trying, and failing, we had finally scored.

We stood back up. High fives. "WE DID IT!". For some reason, we just couldn't stop laughing. And even in the dressing room, we couldn't stop laughing.

And funnily enough, two or three other guys came in, also laughing, saying, "that was the funnest game we've played all year".

I thought of that game last Saturday night. I popped in to the local pub The Irish Times to check out my buddies playing, and I bumped into a couple of guys from the club, K and G. We got to talking, and the subject of Mormonism, my former religion, came up.

I didn't really want to get into the church - I've long since tired of talking about it, for the most part - but I just said, "Well, it was really make a long story short, I discovered that it wasn't true".

There was a pause, and then K, very seriously, said, "Rugby's true. It's always true".

And G said, "it's the one constant in my life".

I knew what they meant.

And then K said, "Rugby is war, and in war, you can only live by the truth. You have to live your life by the truth...You have to live your life by the truth".

And it's hard to's something about the truth, and rugby...but I can feel it deep in my bones...

And no doubt it sounds totally ridiculous to most people - not least to people who have never been Mormon, or who haven't yet realized it is all a fraud, or who have never belonged to a warrior cult in which, in every moment, you must live by the truest truths your mind and heart can fathom, or else suffer or die (in some way or other) - but I admit, to me, in that moment, it didn't sound ridiculous at all. It sounded...well, like the truest truth there can be.

This Sunday, we play Velox again. Maybe that game will bring a lot of laughs. Then again, it could bring a lot of injuries...but whatever it brings, I'm pretty sure it will be true :).